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Ramsey's Trial by Fire

By Sally Jenkins

Friday, September 19, 2003; Page D01

Patrick Ramsey plays football as if he is totally detached from the reality of the situation. The reality is 10 sacks, and more coming. The reality is another helmet in his shoulder, or his kidney, or his diaphragm.

But one of the more interesting features of Ramsey's character is his capacity for denial. It's as if his temperament comes with a built-in ability to ignore his own potential for demise.

How he can deny something so blazingly apparent, I don't know, but he does, maybe because he needs to in order to play from week to week. Otherwise he would never go to work. When Ramsey stands in the pocket and fixes on a receiver downfield, you get the feeling that if you want to distract him, you had better be wielding a two-by-four. Even then, it doesn't seem to matter how often you hit him, or how hard, he bobs back up like a balloon-toy, and makes another play.

How long can this go on -- how long can Ramsey's patent physical toughness continue to meet the violence of the NFL head-on? If you ask Ramsey, the answer is indefinitely.

"My job is to get it to the receivers, and if that means me holding on and standing in, I'll do it," he says. "I think that when you throw the ball a lot, it comes with the territory. It means you get to throw the ball more."

The big fear around Redskins Park is that Ramsey can't take much more of this. But you know what? The kid's okay. He's fine. It turns out that another of his qualities is an immense capacity to absorb punishment. This sort of thing happened to him through five starts and parts of 10 games last season, and he came out of it all right. It happened to him his entire career at Tulane, where he set 20 school records behind a notoriously weak offensive line, and got hit on just about every play, smacked down, blindsided, or leveled face-front. "It wasn't just sacks," says Tulane offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo, "He got hit on the release all the time, too."

Only once, in three years at Tulane, did Ramsey come out of a game injured. It was against Louisville, on a day when Tulane wound up throwing 72 times. On the play in question, Ramsey looked downfield and knew he had sure-thing TD -- if he could hang on to the ball for another split second. "He knew the thing was going to open, and he knew he was going to get hit," Scelfo said. "He threw it. And he got crushed." Ramsey made the play, but he came to the sideline with a badly bruised sternum. He still went back in for one more series. But this time when he came out again, he called Scelfo in the booth. "This one is really bad," he said. "I can't do it." For once, he stayed on the sideline.

You'd think that Ramsey would get worn down by such a constant beating. Actually, it was the opposing collegiate defenses that got worn down. Ramsey made them pay, even when he got hit. "Defenses finally gave up," says Scelfo. "They just quit blitzing us." But the New York Giants and Michael Strahan aren't Louisville. How long can Ramsey stand in the pocket and take hits from NFL linebackers at full speed? The question is absolutely critical to the Redskins: They have finally found their quarterback of the future -- but that won't matter if he doesn't last another game. Especially since their offensive line hasn't yet figured out its timing.

The problem is not so much that Ramsey is being hit often -- he's proven his ability to deal with that. The problem is that it only takes one hit of the right kind. An ugly example of what can happen is New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins. Collins was a swaggering third-year quarterback for the Carolina Panthers when the Broncos' Bill Romanowski leveled him, breaking his jaw in three places. The hit was so savage that Romanowski would later be fined $20,000 by the league.

Collins, lying there, didn't think his jaw was broken. "I thought my whole head was broken," he told me a few years ago, during an interview for ESPN magazine. He got to the sideline spitting out blood, and bits of his teeth came out, too. On the bench, a trainer manipulated his jaw -- and it moved two inches farther to the side than it should have. "It's one thing to break your hand," Collins remembered. "But when your head breaks, that really messes you up." Collins lost 15 pounds, and his self-confidence. "It screwed me up big time," he says. "I might as well have been in a car wreck."

Before, Collins had thought he was invincible -- he was 6 feet 5, 220 pounds, and he could take any blow. "I had always been a big guy, could take any hit. I was like, anchors aweigh back there. But you get hit like that, you lose that sense of invincibility." Ever since, Collins has played with a sense of the consequences. You could see that in his face last week, when he stood behind an injury-riddled and inexperienced offensive line in the face of the oncoming Dallas Cowboys.

But it may be that Ramsey's propensity to stand in the pocket and get hit at full speed is not the thing to worry about. Yes, the Redskins have to cast about for ways to protect him better. But not everything is preventable -- how do you anticipate or guard against an accident? The two worst injuries that have occurred to quarterbacks this season haven't come from vicious blows, but from freak accidents. Atlanta's Michael Vick broke his leg in preseason on a play that looked utterly insignificant. New York's Chad Pennington broke and dislocated his wrist just hitting the turf. Ramsey's bravery can't control that sort of thing, and neither can an offensive line.

The duel between a quarterback and pass rushers is part mental contest: one hit, if it's hard enough, can stay in a guy's head forever.

Killing a quarterback's nerve has become the best defense against the passing game. The rules no longer allow defensive backs to manhandle the wide receivers, so the way to stop the pass is to go get the quarterback.

Pass rushers know this -- and in some ways it gives them a psychological edge over quarterbacks. Every quarterback in the league remembers Lawrence Taylor breaking Joe Theismann's leg, and Romanowksi breaking Collins's jaw.

"Violent people rely on our distaste for it -- they take us to their country," wrote Martin Amis. Just the threat of violence becomes enough to ruin a quarterback for the rest of the day.

But Ramsey defuses that threat -- it's his greatest talent as a starting quarterback, apart from that marvelous arm. He keeps getting back up and making the play. For him to worry unduly about injury would be to totally negate what he does best.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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What an awesome article

I'm so glad we spent that 32 overall pick on this guy. He's ****ing crazy guys. This is sweet he is insane! He doesnt even pay attension to being absolutely hammered. And Tulane's O Line is terrible, still. I saw them play a few weeks ago with their star QB J.P Losman, whos probably the biggest NFL QB Prospect, and he was just getting pounded too. He could barely walk by the end of the game. They do the kind of stuff we do, empty the backfield and run deep routes.

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It happened to him his entire career at Tulane, where he set 20 school records behind a notoriously weak offensive line, and got hit on just about every play, smacked down, blindsided, or leveled face-front. "It wasn't just sacks," says Tulane offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo, "He got hit on the release all the time, too."


this is the reality of what kind of team Ramsey was playing on in college that posters like INSTIGATOR ignore when they rattle off opinions on what PR is going to do in the NFL.

you put Danny Wuerffel on the Tulane team instead of Florida and he would have been battered and never put up the numbers that Ramsey did with his weaker arm.

Wuerffel's preparation helped him win games in college.

Ramsey's trial by fire and preparation helps him win games in the NFL :)

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